Most African Americans in America are not more than a few generations removed from the farm. At the turn of the century there were more than a million Black farm families. But, in Washington, D.C., and other urban areas it can be hard to connect with Black farmers, even though it is so much a part of our community’s history.

This afternoon, while I was on my daily ride through the District on my tractor “Justice” to bring attention to the injustice Black farmers continues to face, I met a young man working in the city who is just one generation removed from the farm. His father was a farmer and so was his grandfather.?

Tens of thousands of Black farmers find themselves waiting for justice despite the fact that no one disputes that they suffered discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For years Black farmers all over the country were denied access to federal loans and other forms of assistance that other farmers received and continue to receive to this day.

The hold-up in getting justice is the very institution that is supposed to protect rights and ensure justice – the federal government. ?

When the USDA settled the Black farmers’ case over seven months ago, the president of the United States said, “I look forward to a swift resolution to this issue, so that the families affected can move on with their lives.”

But the issue is not resolved, and some of those farmers affected have died waiting for justice. I have attended far too many funerals for farmer friends. I’ve taken to the lectern to provide eulogies at many of them, yet I have been unable to offer a definitive timetable for hope for those who still wait for their cases to be resolved.?

My recent trip across the South caused me nightmares. I have met Black farmers who, because of their inability to access basic federal loans, have been left with farm properties but no operating support. This is a profound injustice, and it must stop. ?

Funding for the Black farmers case has passed the House of Representatives twice, but it has languished in the Senate, despite Sen. Reid’s attempts at passing the funding eight times. 

One big challenge is that for political reasons that I do not fully understand, our quest for justice has been tied to the unrelated Cobell settlement. Cobell deals with mismanagement of Native American trust accounts by the United States Department of the Interior, while the Black famers’ settlement seeks to give Black farmers and Blacks who attempted to farm the opportunity to have their claims of discrimination by the USDA determined on their merits. Many Republicans have repeatedly objected to several elements of the Cobell settlement, ultimately keeping the Black farmers bill from ever passing through the Senate.

We have been told by congressional leadership that the only way we will receive our funding is by unanimous consent – all 100 senators agreeing that both the Black farmer settlement and the Cobell settlement should be funded. 

There is seemingly no disagreement about funding for the Black farmers case. Yet it appears that many Republicans are objecting to Cobell and therefore, in effect, objecting to resolving the Black farmers case. 

This has been especially frustrating for farmers when there has been such strong bipartisan leadership by Sen. Reid and Sen. Chuck Grassley. After a meeting between the two offices, it appears there is an agreement on offsets that fully pay for the Black farmer settlement, yet issues with Cobell remain.

If the Senate were able to vote on just the Black farmer settlement, it appears there would be at least 60 votes, however given the political need for the Black farmers to be joined with Cobell, 60 is simply not enough. 

We need the Senate to stand as one and approve these settlements. Both cases are worthy of their own individual consideration, and I know our nation’s long suffering Black farmers are due justice.

John W. Boyd, Jr. is founder and president of the National Black Farmers Association. An active farmer in southern Virginia, Boyd is riding his tractor into Washington, D.C., every day the Senate is in session to keep the pressure on Congress to fund the Black farmers bill.

 

John Boyd

Special to the AFRO